The first-ever fitness club for women has opened in Kabul with the objective of promoting health and sports among women in Afghanistan’s traditionally patriarchal society.
“It was my life’s ambition to open this club — Blue Moon Fitness Club — and serve women like me and it cost me $20,000,” the club’s owner, Tahmina Mahid Nuristani, told Xinhua news agency on Sunday.
“Afghanistan is a conservative society, but in defiance of this, I opened the club nearly two months ago, with the hope of contributing to female empowerment here,” Nuristani, 20, said.
In conservative Afghanistan society where people, especially in rural areas, deeply believe in tribal traditions, some of which include prohibiting girls from going to school or working outside home, opening a fitness club for girls is a particularly brave move, especially for a female and took a great deal of courage.
“My sole aim of opening the club is to support the women’s cause and to encourage them to come out of their houses, go to sports clubs and exercise,” Nuristani asserted.
Although Afghanistan has made tremendous achievements since the collapse of the Taliban regime in late 2001 and Afghan athletes have brought medals home from regional and international tournaments, including from the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2012 London Olympics, the percentage of female sports-persons is almost zero, mostly because of traditions and cultural barriers.
“Men on the roads harass me everyday as I travel to and from the fitness club,” Rukhsar Habibzai, 19, a club member, said. She added that the men even go as far as to throw stones and hurl abusive language at her as she rides her bicycle to the club, just because she is a female.
“Even though these ignorant, sexist men with extreme views are trying to intimidate me from going to the fitness club, I am determined to continue my practice,” Habibzai added.
The teenager has been a member of the National Women’s Cyclist Association for more than three years and is currently practicing yoga at the fitness club.
“With courage and determination, we Afghan women can overcome the harmful traditions and cultural barriers to prove and elevate our existence in society,” she said.
Although women’s social status in Afghanistan has been improving and women are currently engaged in politics, business, arts and other pursuits previously prohibited, many families still do not allow their female members to work outside of home.
The private fitness club, which opened 45 days ago, is rapidly gaining popularity among female sports enthusiasts and its members are on a constant rise, despite a backlash from traditional male quarters, according to Fakhria Ibrahim, a yoga instructor.
“Since the club opened, 50 women and girls have registered and regularly practice yoga, body building and other exercises, and the number is consistently rising in the face of traditional restrictions,” Ibrahim said.